Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Service’

Anniversary

Posted by quirksalight on June 26, 2011

It’s been one year since I arrive at Seoul, jetlagged, bewildered and armed with a vague notion of what I’m supposed to do. In that year, I’ve made some wonderful friends, weathered political crises, fielded called from friends and family worried about my safety, and finally gained a sense of what this job is all about. I remember griping back at FSI about the vagueness of the training, and non-specific answers to questions about what we were supposed to do as a political officer. And I realize now that the answers we received were vague because there really isn’t an answer. There are case studies, if/then scenarios that can be discussed, but an answer? No, singularities such as that isn’t what this is about.

In whole, it’s an ever changing lifestyle. The social aspects, being a “rep”… it becomes a second skin that you easily don on and off.

Though a downside of the job are the inevitable blatant users. For example, I had dinner with a group of people; friends of my friend, who the dinner was in honor of. One person sticks out because of the interesting turnaround in her behavior after she found out what I did for a living. When she thought I was “just another Korean” – I wasn’t worth bothering with. But an American diplomat with access to the PX, well, that’s another story. Immediately became chatty, asked if I could “help her out”. tsk tsk….

But I don’t regret it. Now, it’s bidding season, and I’m worrying over my bid list, wondering which places to list, what I need to put in my narrative, etc. 2nd tour will be 2012 onward…………

Posted in 152nd, adventure, ancedotes, annoyance, Bidding, commentary, work | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Commonality

Posted by quirksalight on April 3, 2011

The most common question I get, considering my educational background, is, “How did you go from biomedical engineering to the Foreign Service?”

Convoluted? Yes and no. There’s a bit of history, and the kernels behind all this were placed a long time ago. In high school, I was on the high school debate team and that ignited my interest in politics and international relations. However, I was rather obsessed with science and had dreams of developing a treatment/device that would revolutionize medicine. It wasn’t until grad school, after being burned out of medical research, when I had to start thinking of, “now what?”. My temporary answer was to take a leave of absence for a year and teach English in Korea. That’s one of the earlier points in this blog, back in 2007.

But in Korea, teaching was one thing, but straddling two cultures socially and linguistically was a whole ‘nother beast. Plus, I came to Korea at a political change; for the first time in 10 years, the progressive party was out of office and the conservatives came into power the month I arrived, March 2008. This combined with my background in Korean culture and language, sciences, and interest in politics led to some interesting discussions with the faculty in my middle school, handling getting punched on a subway, acting as a facilitator for my foreign friends in Korea, and occasionally having to explain what the U.S. government was doing to my students, colleagues, and friends.

I really enjoyed that interaction – facilitating the understanding between two cultures, though not so much the getting hit part. Which led me to starting thinking about the Foreign Service. I always planned to go into public service, someday, when I was on the academic track. But I hadn’t thought about it again until when I was in Korea, pondering my next step. So I did – FSOT exam date was November 5, 2008. I got the acceptance in to the QEP in December 2008, decided not to sign a teaching contract for another year, gambling that I would pass the QEP and get to the OA, which I did. So I left Korea, with a freelance editing gig, prepped for the OA and passed on June 15, 2009. A year later, I was prepping to leave DC for my first tour as a POL officer in Seoul. whew! What a whirlwind…

Posted in ancedotes, commentary, election 2008, Graduate school, Korea, New York, school, Science, Seoul, teaching english | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Cataloging a month…

Posted by quirksalight on October 29, 2010

In no particular order…

Bangkok trip
visitors, visitors, visitors
Halloween
On the US Embassy Association board
Pulled into the planning of the Diplomatic Happy Hours in Seoul
Accidentally started a get-together of junior female diplomatic officers in Seoul
Sick
Visiting cousins
cooking!
A couple national day celebrations
Being the recipient of good news and grant money to an NGO
Parties…..
Did I mention work? 🙂

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

I am discussing shoes with the Ambassador

Posted by quirksalight on September 9, 2010

🙂

See – shoes are great convo points, not just for shodding your feet. We were talking about getting shoes custom-made in Korea.

I did ask her if there were a season or two in the year that had more visitors than others, or if the number of visitors peaked at all, as it seems like it’s continuously climbing during the entire (short) time I’ve been here. She laughed, and said that fall is a popular time for visitors to Korea.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, shopping | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Kompasu, Kompasu

Posted by quirksalight on September 6, 2010

Oh, how you were such a bane for me.

More like a pain in the butt. Typhoon Kompasu made landfall in Korea in the wee hours of September 2, 2010, and proceed to to lash the peninsula with wind and rain.
It took down 100+ trees on base, taking down power lines, crashing on cars, and one or two houses. There were 4 deaths reported in Korea due to Kompasu, including an elderly man killed by a flying roof tile.

However, the power was out for nearly 4 days, but that was just the embassy housing area on base. Other parts of Seoul were just fine. I guess that’s the downfall of having so many darn trees around.

Posted in weather | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Two months

Posted by quirksalight on August 24, 2010

It’s been two months since I arrived at post, and I wish I can say something witty or thought-provoking, but right now, I’m damn tired. Whoever said that Korea is dynamic wasn’t joking. In fact, I think they were being a little too dry in their description. They really aren’t kidding about the learning curve, and the curve isn’t an exponential function, it’s a polynomial, swinging up and down in a maniac, chaotic pattern.

Sometime you feel like it’s a head pounding against a wall kinda day, until several hours in, you figure out that there is a door, next to said wall, that you can open to get past the wall. Other times, you wonder if you are back in academia observing the power struggles from afar. I’m learning, one head butt at a time.

On the upside, I found another amazing shoe store – they make custom orders! – and discovered that Victoria’s Secret has decent, inexpensive suits that will get to me in Korea in under a week.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, clothes, Korea, work | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Little things in life.

Posted by quirksalight on August 2, 2010

I’ve been at Embassy Seoul for little over a month now, and it’s been a rollercoaster. From running around, planning visits, to meeting contacts, managing (actually, more being managed BY) the LES, and mentoring interns, it’s been a trip. For the most part very good, some low points of frustration and wanting to hit my head against a wall as I scrabble up the “learning curve”. Though, at times, it definitely feels like a cliff. But I’m getting it. And the little things makes me smile.

Getting up at 3am, running around on adrenaline and realizing at the end of the day, EVERYTHING was OK.
Laughing with a new contact as an introductory interview becomes more of a conversation between new-found friends.
Realizing that I CAN conduct at least a part of a meeting in Korean – well, it was about food, eating, Iftar and Ramadan – but STILL… no translator needed for that, and it was official, with some technical words and stuff! 🙂
Amazon delivers in a week – no extra shipping charges. I ❤ APO.
Yongsan has an amazing library; with better hours than back home!!!

And realizing that my creative skills weren't rusty – I make damn good mango-banana bread, and assembled my own pillow-top bed.
^.^

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Books, Embassy Seoul, geek, Humor, Korea, Korean, language, meeting, Seoul, work | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

musings

Posted by quirksalight on July 28, 2010

One of the hardest things to figure out is what is legit to post online and what is not. The general rule I tend to use is that if I’ve got to ask myself whether I should or shouldn’t post, I don’t. This might be overkill, but better safe than sorry, and I’ll know more where that line is, the longer I’m in the Service.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, blogging, musings, thoughtstream | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Shoes

Posted by quirksalight on July 18, 2010

Why am I blogging about shoes?

Well, it’s not just a piece of leather, suede, plant-based, or man-made materials that shod your feet. They can be iconic, witty, gorgeous, hideous, comfortable, and painful. And they are a bit more important than I thought to a FSO’s job.

In the Foreign Service, we are considered to be generalists, jack-of-all trades, etc. And with that moniker, comes the job, which means that we can be called to do anything and everything as the need arises. So, if you need to sprint up and down the length of Incheon International Airport so you can meet the visitor who’s itinerary you are in charge of, you better have comfortable, well-padded, shoes.

Of course, never having thought that I would be sprinting up and down Incheon airport, praying that I would be able to meet up with my visitor, I was not wearing the said comfy shoes. Instead, I was wearing a pair of lovely maroon suede, 3″, Mary Jane style heels. Which, in a normal trip to the airport would be fantastic and just fine. This case, 3 blisters the size of Kansas (actually, 1-2cms), smaller areas rubbed raw, and all joints in my legs serious questioning my sanity and sense of judgement.

That said, my visitors (Yes, I’ve been here 3 weeks and this shoe business happened twice) were never the wiser of the behind the scene nuttiness and were apparently quite happy with my planning and organization skills.

Lesson learned. Keep the smile on your face, go above and beyond the requirements and you’ll be rewarded, and get better shoes. Yes, I bought out a chunk of Rockport’s inventory in Itaewon, 5 pairs of shoes this week. Screw the blisters and the like; this is a career investment. 🙂

Posted in adventure, airports, amusing, ancedotes, commentary, Embassy Seoul, fun, Incheon, Korea, People, shopping, work | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

To my Orientation instructors:

Posted by quirksalight on July 14, 2010

I’ve got a car. Will be getting a PDA
Overtime? Normal.
Visitors? Check!
Demarches, cables, meets and greets. Yup. all the time.

It’s a rush. I’m writing this on a break from transcribing notes from earlier in the day. Schedule is unpredictable, and am very glad that I was able to see my family before the storm (figurative) hit, work wise. Currently, I’m on my third set of delegation/visitors/POC stuff in under three weeks. Sets 2 and 3 overlap, which makes for mind-spinning schedules upon schedules upon schedules. Pretty energizing stuff. 😛

The drinking from the fire hose continues, long after we’ve left your immediate merry sphere of influence. I’m treading water.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Bizarre, commentary, Embassy Seoul, Korea, meeting, metaphors | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »